In this final reflection on the sacrament of reconciliation (read parts I and II at, we'll explore some frequently-asked questions concerning the sacrament and how we should celebrate it - but first, a few words about the minister and ministry of reconciliation.

Many priests regard being a confessor or minister of reconciliation as a challenge and awesome responsibility, as well as a privilege and joy. Imagine being channels of God's abundant love and mercy. In fact, because of this serious responsibility, a priest has to pass a sort of exam before he is given the permission and the authority (or the "faculty") to celebrate the sacrament.

Of course, it is not just the actions of the priest that are key; the actions of the person going to confession are essential, too. Let's tackle a few questions that can often worry people about using the sacrament.

What should we do or say when we come to the sacrament of reconciliation? First, a proper and honest reflection on life (called the examination of conscience) is vital. This is not easy. It is quite something to review my life in a genuine, open and deep way. Fortunately, many parishes have examples of this examination of conscience available, and there are also examples online or in prayer books.

A good examination of conscience helps us to ask the all-important "why" question: for example, we might say, "I get angry or jealous," or, "I gossip," but why do we do this? What deeper things are causing it?

Until we can recognize these deeper causes, it can be very difficult to overcome these faults. Hopefully, a good confessor will help us to explore these deeper matters of the soul in our examination of conscience during the sacrament. When we make our confession, it's useful to remember the "four Cs:" that is, to be concise, concrete, clear and complete!

Many spiritual writers also suggest a daily examination of conscience at the end of each day where we can reflect on the events of the day and see what has been good and what has not been so good. Why should we do this? This spiritual stock-taking can quickly develop into a life-giving habit that helps to inform our conscience and sharpen our spiritual senses. It can help us to become reflective and not just reactive.

Sometimes, people worry about forgetting the prayers, such as the act of contrition. It is worth recalling that there are a number of forms of this prayer and that many reconciliation rooms or confessionals often have the prayer posted to read.

Remember, the prayer is part of our celebration of the sacrament, not a test of memorization. Its purpose is for us to express our sorrow for our sins and our love of God, as well as to express our resolution to amend our life.

How often should we use the sacrament? This depends on many factors. There is a minimum requirement of celebrating the sacrament once a year for serious sin, but seeing the sacrament as part of a lifelong project of conversion, reconciliation and discipleship is a more positive way of answering the question. Many great saints in the Church used the sacrament frequently as part of their spiritual growth.

Another question or worry that comes up is often expressed along the lines of, "I seem to commit the same sins over and over, so why bother going anymore?" Committing the same offenses again and again may well point to a lack of real resolve to change. However, it can also show our frailty and our very human need for constant healing and forgiveness.

Suppose that we get sick with the same illness a number of times. Would we stop going to the doctor or taking the necessary medications to get well again? What is so important is not to become discouraged if we seem to fall again and again, but also to have the firm intention to change our lives and not to sin again.

Sometimes, we hear a challenge to the sacrament along the lines of, "I can do whatever I want, then just go to confession afterwards." There are so many issues with this. Is such an attitude showing true sorrow for faults and failings? That is a necessary part of our genuine participation in the sacrament. Also, the absolution or forgiveness we receive does not absolve us from responsibility for what we have done.

During this "Year of Faith," take another, deeper look at the sacrament of reconciliation. It can help in developing morality, growing in integrity (integrating all the aspects of our life together), sharpening our spiritual perception and sight, experiencing God's immense love through His mercy and forgiveness and receiving two essential gifts that are so much needed: "pardon and peace" (as the Prayer of Absolution puts it).

The divine gift is there in the sacrament. All that is needed is our human response.

(Father Barratt is pastor of St. Ambrose parish in Latham.)